Tuesday, March 28, 2006

The Department of Corrections.

Tuesday, March 28, and the day after the sinkhole stopped subway service in my neighborhood. Right on 74th Street and 4th Avenue, a sinkhole opened up and swallowed up a car (the driver is in the hospital, but she's alive), and caused pipes and wiring to burst. Luckily, we're enough out of the immediate area that our water and electricity weren't affected.

Anyway, just talked to Debbie, and she corrected me: Eileen Newman was with Film/Video Arts for more than a decade; it's Beni Matias who's at AIVF. But that's one of the problems: at this point, what is the difference between AIVF and Film/Video Arts? Can these organizations really define themselves in terms of a "mission" so that they can actually provide a distinct "service"?

But i'm tired of all these filmmakers whining about how these organizations are supposed to be their conduit to "the industry": if you want to work in the industry, don't try to be an independent filmmaker. Because there are too many independent filmmakers (genuinely independent filmmakers) out there, and you're just taking up oxygen!

But the resources for independent filmmakers keep contracting, as the field gets swamped by so many "independnet" wannabes.

When i was helping with this past year's IFFM, i was telling Wendy Sax that it's been YEARS since i've met anybody at the Market, or at ND/NF, or anywhere. People don't want to know me. If they know anything about me, it's usually the fact that i'm one of the people from Apparatus (Barry Ellsworth is the other) who DIDN'T go to Hollywood. But the point is: i didn't want to go to Hollywood. Everything i've ever done has been to be an alternative to the standard systems. I wanted to be an independent artist in New York City, and that's what i am. But suddenly, other standards apply, i.e., the idea that being "independent" actually means being a smaller version of Hollywood.

But Larry and i went to the Asian Week receptions at the Fuller Building: five floors of galleries, many showing Asian art or Asian artists. It was fun, with a lot of wealthy people roaming around looking at art. It was very different from the usual gallery crowd: not many young people, mostly middle-aged, and mostly with money. (Once, when we were in the elevator, Larry had to remark that there was over a million dollars worth of furs in the elevator.)

Then we went to the New Directors/New Films Directors Party. For some reason, i was feeling very anti-social, or, rather, it was mostly the same people that we'd seen last week at the Opening Night Party, and i didn't feel like i had anything to say to anyone. Especially since, over the weekend, i'd been e.mailing Kent Larson and Jake Andrews, and... ok, so they happen to be gorgeous men. But they're also so much more interesting than anyone i could meet at ND/NF: i've been around filmmakers and film critics and film curators my whole life. And most of the people there... at one point, William Wolf walked by. You know, William Wolf was the film critic for Cue when i was a child (and my parents subscribed to it). Kent and Jake are people who... it's like Jake decided nine years ago to up and move to Australia, because his boyfriend got a job there. And now he's decided to go back to school. Jake's always open to his life changing, and he's not stagnant. Neither is Kent.

Two notes. At the beginning of "The Shop Around the Corner", William Tracy and Felix Bressart are the first two people to arrive at work. So William Tracy says, "Always the first one, huh?" And Felix Bressart says, none of your business, it doesn't hurt to be too early. And William Tracy responds: "What for? Who sees you? Me. And who sees me? you. Where does it get us? Can we give each other a raise? No." And i was looking at the same old people, and they had nothing to say to me, and i had nothing to say to them, so why bother? So i spoke to no one.

And John Ford, when he was interviewed by Peter Bogdanovich, explained his conception for "Young Cassidy", how at the end, the only person who understood Cassidy's play (which causes a riot, and makes the Maggie Smith character shrink from him) is the Julie Christie character, who's now become a prostitute. She's the only one who appreciates him.

But anyway we got home, and watched "77 Sunset Strip" (a very noir-ish early episode, with Bea Benedaret guest-starring) and "Bourbon Street Beat" (a "remake" of - of all things - "White Heat"!) and then "The Vice" on BBC America. I'm grateful to George Robinson for alerting me to the new season of "The Vice" and this was one of the scuzziest, most unsettling, truly disturbing episodes ever! It involved a pedophilia ring. Ugh! I was practically shakking by the end of the episode! That was more exciting than anything at the ND/NF party.

Friday, March 24, 2006

Quick fixings.

The other day, when i was going to galleries, i stopped by Rizzoli's Bookstore on 57th Street, and prominently displayed was the Catalogue Raissonne of Warhol's Films by Callie Angell! Of course, i took a copy down from the display and looked through it. It's certainly a handsomely designed volume. I know Callie has been incredibly diligent about the research. But in looking at the section on "The 13 Most Beautiful Women".... i always knew Olga Adorno (who was then Olga Kluver, married to Billy Kluver; they got divorced and Olga married Jean Dupuy, and used the name Olga Adorno - was that her maiden name? - when she was performing, as she did with Jean's Grommet Theater, and then Olga was in that film that Dione Hemberger made, and then PAJ published that book of Jean Dupuy's Grommet Theater) was one of the women, and so was Ivy Nicholson, and i knew Lucinda Childs had been one of the women. Edie Sedgwick wasn't because she wasn't around yet. But i had forgotten that Brooke Hayward had been one of the women. And Sally Kirkland (it's almost like, again? Sally Kirkland?). And... Amy Taubin!

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Much ado about much ado.

The last few days have been very busy, not so much in terms of activity as in terms of friends. Jesse McCloskey called with big news (the second "big news" in a week): he's getting a solo show at the Christopher Henry Gallery in Chelsea in May! That's a big deal, because May is one of the big months in the artworld, with the spring auctions during that period. So it's a prime time to have a show. (With things like the Munch show around, the time for Jesse's very expressionistic figurative work may be now, so his show might get noticed.) The first big bit of news was that Nica has finally decided to get help for her book on her father, Nicholas Ray; that item was reported in The New York Post on Page Six. So they must be very happy at the McCloskey-Ray household.

Theodora Skipitares got a great review in The New York Times for her trilogy that's at LaMama. I've seen two parts of it, and i thought they were among the most potent pieces she's ever done. I think the discipline of working with established texts (Greek tragedies, in this case) was a good one for her: she was able to let her imagination really blossom, but there was always a very strong undercurrent supplied by the original texts. There are things like the Greek chorus (which is an almost life-sized frieze of several figures, bracketed by the puppeteers on either side) that were just so perfectly realized, and so utterly apt. Plus Theodora got a wonderful "Voice Choice" last week (complete with a marvellous photo; it was the prime item last week), and this week, she got a very nice notice as part of the "Around Town" section of the New York Press (also with another very evocative photo). I still think Theodora is one of the most inventive performance artists out there; i don't understand why her work hasn't been able to find a place in some regional theater center, or some place with real funding. It's like every time that Theodora gets an opportunity, it doesn't seem to lead to something easier. She did her "Radiant City" piece at the American Place Theater, and it was wonderful, but that was a one-shot. When she directed (and designed) that Charles Ludlum play at the Sundance Theater Institute, it was very well-received, but (because of the enormous sets and costumes) it turned out to be too expensive to move to smaller venues. But this "Trilogy" is so special, "Helen" and "Iphigenia" have so many spectacular and haunting images, i can't see why it hasn't been taken up by some place like BAM....

Got a notice from Alvin Eng, about play readings. His latest installment of the "Flushing Cycle" was this past Monday; sorry to have missed it, because i've liked his other sections. Alvin sent the notice to the old address, and it was forwarded. It's almost the end of the forwarding cycle (we signed up for a year), so i hope no one else sends me anything at the old Wooster Street address.

When we were at PAJ, we published one of Theodora's texts, and we also published the earlier parts of Alvin's "Flushing Cycle".

Had to check with Michael Giltz's popsurfing blog, to find out that it was Kevin that got voted off. A pity.

Last night, Larry and i went to the opening night party for New Directors/New Films. A very odd event, because it was running into a lot of people... and everything is in such flux. Eileen Newman, for example, is now with the National Board of Review, after a year at the IFP, and after a decade or so running AIVF. In today's IndieWire, there was an item about AIVF in a crisis situation: if their latest fundraising drive doesn't meet expectations, the organization, which has been in existence since... i can't even remember when it wasn't in existence, it must be at least forty years, i remember that one of the very first things i ever published was a very brief piece about the Robert Bresson retrospective at The Museum of Modern Art in 1970 in The Independent. So if The Independent (AIVF's publication) was already in existence in 1970, AIVF must have been around for a while by that point. AIVF (Association of Independent Video and Filmmakers) and the IFP (Independent Feature Project) used to overlap in trems of a lot of their services, but the IFP became more geared towards "the industry" and that has left AIVF in the precarious position of providing services for the genuinely noncommercial filmmaker. And there's no money in that (unfortunately).

Also at the ND/NF party: talked with Irene and Steve from the Film Society, i told them i knew people (critics) were going to revolt. Most of the ND/NF selections this year simply are not "films". I mean that seriously: most are (technically) "videos" and the majority are simply being projected digitally. And the types of dramatic construction, narrative continuity, and technical refinements (editing, cinematography, clarity of sound, etc.) which most critics judge films by just don't apply.

Mary Lea Bandy was at the party: she's so changed! She's lost a lot of weight and she's walking with a cane. She was such an imposing figure, during the re-opening of the museum, she was so much in evidence, as she had so many plans as to the place of the Department of Film and Media in the expanded Museum of Modern Art. And then... that sudden seizure and now...

But talking to her, she seems to be alert. So we'll see how things progress. Mary Lea did lament the demise of film.

Also in the mail: A card about a new "opera" by Eileen Myles and Michael Webster, which will be done at Performance Space 122. This was also sent to the old Wooster Street address and forwarded. The title of the opera is "Hell"; i love the description, "A lurid new opera by poet-librettist Eileen Myles and composer Michael Webster, Hell employs frank and lyrical language and an exalted neo-baroque style to tear away the veils obscuring corporate silence and global disaster." Lurid, frank, lyrical, exalted neo-baroque: sounds like Eileen. I haven't seen her in years....

Also at the ND/NF party: talked a little with Godfrey Chesire, and someone who worked at Wellspring. Then Ryan Werner came over. I'd met Ryan when he was at The Shooting Gallery. That was more than a decade ago. But it is a sea change: most younger people simply accept what's happening in film, and the fact that most of the "independent" work has to be done on digital.

Tonight, watched an episode of "Queer as Folk" from 2004. I've only seen selected episodes, because we never had Showtime. But when we moved to Brooklyn, we got an HBO-Showtime package as part of the installation deal. In this episode, Jack Wetherall is playing Uncle Vic. Jack was another person who used to take the aerobics class on Sunday mornings, along with Amanda Church and Claude Simard.

In The Village Voice, Michael Musto has a note about "Gus Mattox" retiring from porn! Gus is (of course) his porn name; under his real name of Tom Judson, Tom had worked with Theodora on "Radiant City" (her piece about Robert Moses) and he composed the score for Whit Stillman's "Metropolitan". At the Gay VN Awards (where Kent Larson won for Best Supporting Actor), "Gus" won the "Performer of the Year" award; in addition, he got cast in the new Terrence McNally play, so he's decided to retire from porn. With both Kent Larson and Gus Mattox retiring from porn, it's just not going to be the same. (Jake Andrews was given a "Hall of Fame" award; i hope HE doesn't decide to retire from porn, then it'll really be bleak!)

The New York Observer was in the mail, and the last few issues... well, it's a much diminished newspaper. Now, it's only in one section, and in the last month, there's been NO art coverage. No Hilton Kramer. No Mario Naves. Andrew Sarris's column is still there... and so is Rex Reed's. But John Heilbrun's theater column seems to have vanished as well....

What's happening?

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Mixed doubles.

Yesterday, went to a press screening of the Australian "The Proposition"; as with a number of other films set in the days of Australia's colonization, it's a frightening portrait of "the wilderness" and the (un)civilizing effects of the "master race". From there, there was a reception at the Walter Reade Theater for David Noh's cousin Edgy Lee, a documentary filmmaker from Hawaii, but i had two hours in between, so i stayed midtown and went to a few galleries. At the Marlborough Gallery, paintings and drawings by Frank Auerbach. I didn't understand the work. Not because it was esoteric, but because Auerbach's work (very "expressionistic" with thick applications of paint so that the figurative nature of the image is obscured) isn't that different from the stuff usually shown at a lot of the coop galleries (Bowery, Blue Mountain, et al). At the Mary Boone Gallery, there was a show curated by Jose Friere: it was a "punk" show, with a lot of photos from the era of the mid-1980s, with shots of Richard Hell and the Voidoids, the Ramones, Television. The Edwynn Houk Gallery had photographs by Danny Lyons; the most interesting thing was the attempt, with a number of the photos, to arrange several (three, four, six) within a frame. But Lyons's photos are always very solid in terms of the type of b&w "art" photography of the 1960s, the era of Diane Arbus and Larry Clark, with photos of people on the wayside. At the McKee Gallery, a drawing show. A very solid show. Philip Guston's work seems to be very hot at the moment, but i was more impressed by some early Vija Celmins's drawings.

Then onto the Walter Reade, met Larry and we had a good time at the reception, where there were dancers doing a traditional hula; it was really a lot of fun. The documentary ("The Hawaiians: Reflecting Spirit") was a very traditional PBS-style doc about Hawaiian history, focussing on the rights of soverignty for the native Hawaiians. Can native traditions be preserved? It was interesting to see this documentary after "The Proposition", which shows an island nation (Australian) where there was a conscious attempt on the part of the whites to exterminate the native culture.

And now, of course, we have a president who thinks he has a god-given right to do the same thing: to eliminate the Muslim world, to annex the Middle East as a colony for the US. And (as if to defy any protests) he gives a press conference where he predicts that the US will "stay the course" for at least six more years.

Larry and i came home to see the final minutes of "American Idol"; checked Michael Giltz's blog to find out what i missed. But i think that Michael's suggestion that Ace might consider a career as a soap opera actor is rather facetious: it's actually very hard work, because the amount of memorization for a new script every day (especially if the character is popular) can be daunting. It's also nothing to sneeze at: at one point in the 1980s, the daytime Emmy Awards had (as nominees for "Best Supporting Actress") a line-up that included Eileen Herlie (Gertrude to Olivier's Hamlet in the 1949 film), Uta Hagen, Judith Anderson, and Kathleen Widdoes. When Julie Harris was (finally) signed as a regular on "Knot's Landing", she wound up making more money than she ever had in her entire career in the theater! (Of course, that was a nighttime soap, but still....) In the latest issue of Details, there's an article about actors in daytime, and how it's a steady job, which is rare in the acting profession. But every year, on or off Broadway, there's always some production with someone like Larry Bryggman or Benjamin Hendricksen, and they always get raves, and they're doing this show in between their steady soap opera jobs. Which reminds me: the last issues of Details and Interview had fashion spreads by Collier Schorr, Jack Pierson, and... one of the McDermott and McGough boys. This is what's happened to our culture. In the 1950s, people who worked in areas like window dressing (Jasper Johns, Rauschenberg) or advertising (Lichtenstein, Andy Warhol) aspired to "the fine arts", to become an "artist" and not simply a commercial craftsman. Now, it's the reverse: you're an artist in a gallery, and then you get to do ads and fashion spreads. That's what's happened to our culture.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Just a note.

The press screenings for Bill Brand at Anthology were cancelled yesterday, spent the day at home watching a bunch of movies starring Robert Young, of which "The Longest Night" was the most amazing. Ha! "The Longest Night": reputedly the shortest feature film ever released by MGM (it's only 51 minutes). It's from 1936, a lovely little suspense film set in a department store after hours, as everyone is forced to stay when the police arrive to investigate a murder. Nevertheless, "The Longest Night" has the best film performance i've ever seen by Julie Haydon, which indicates what her performance must have been like as Laura in the original production of "The Glass Menagerie". In Dave Kehr's DVD column, he reviews "The Busby Berkeley Collection", "Magic" and "The Ten Commandments"; at the end of his review of the 1956 De Mille opus, Dave notes that Parmount has a great library of titles, like the silent von Sternberg "The Docks of New York" and Von Stroheim's "The Wedding March" ripe for transfer to DVD. One note is that Paramount has announced that Ophuls's "Letter from an Unknown Woman" will be coming out on DVD; this was a film produced by John Houseman in association with William Dozier and his then-wife Joan Fontaine, which was released through Universal. But Universal and Paramount (as individual labels) are actually all part of the MCA megalith, which is how so many Paramount films (such as "This Gun for Hire" and "The Big Clock") wound up being released on DVD under the Universal label. Finally watched the DVD of "House on Telegraph Hill" and loved it. It's an example of how a contemporary "issue" (in this case: the problem of "displaced" people after World War II and the relocation of concentration camp survivors) can serve as the basis for a genre story. Have screenings coming up but also want to write. Not just blogging, but actually finish an article.

Sunday, March 19, 2006

Quick jottings.

On Friday night, watched "Charlie Rose" with his interview with Russell Feingold, the Democrat from Wisconsin who is now pushing for a measure to censure George W. Bush for breaking the law re: wiretaps. The New Republic has already done an editorial where they've tried to paint Feingold as some sort of lunatic and opportunist for grandstanding on this, but listening to Feingold, his points were (i think) very solid. One point he made was that no President can decide what laws to uphold and what laws to ignore: the president is not above the law. But George W. Bush's claims are that he is, in fact, above the law, because of the state of emergency that the country is in. Feingold's reasons for censure rather than impeachment (though he feels that many of the President's actions qualify as "high crimes and misdemeanors") were also solid: with the current Republican majority, hearings for impeachment would be a distraction and lead to greater divisiveness.

On Thursday, i didn't go to ND/NF; instead, went to a screening of "Lonesome Jim", directed by Steve Buscemi. Not bad, but another InDigEnt production, so looked like crap. Because people are used to digital films being so bad (technically), when they see a digital film which actually looks good, so many people can't believe it's not film. "Lonesome Jim" raised an interesting question: in terms of casting, can you cast someone "against type" if they can't stretch to accommodate that role? Mary Kay Place was supposed to be the overbearing mother, but she's too lightweight a presence, and Seymour Cassel is supposed to be the distant and disapproving father, but he always seems too emotional. So the psychology of the film doesn't really make sense.

Also watched "Operation Bikini" and "He Laughed Last" on TCM, the latter one of the earliest films written and directed by Blake Edwards. Just to prove a point: it was pretty dreadful, but it proved that not every director starts out a winner, most of them have to work up to it. That's why Orson Welles was such an anomaly: very few people start out with a masterpiece.

Saturday spent trying to write. A jumble of impressions. One problem with the auteur theory was that the directors favored were then conflated with moral heroes. Yet who was a "good" person? I remember reading John Houseman's article in Sight & Sound decades ago, when he wrote about the making of "Letter from an Unknown Woman". Houseman (who was used to a lot in terms of behavior, having worked with Orson Welles on the Mercury Theater) was a little shall-we-say astounded when Max Ophuls came in with his wife and son... and mistress! And then it turned out that Ophuls didn't have just one mistress....

Even Houseman was a little taken aback by the continental nonchalance of the whole arrangement.

I think men and women see things differently. Or that's another way of saying, the witty, marvellously entertaining, highly intelligent little troll that i met in the last decade of his life... this Joseph L. Mankiewicz was reputedly one of the real lady-killers in Hollywood history? This was a man that Joan Crawford considered one of the best lovers she ever had? This is the man who caused a number of adolescent girls under contract to MGM to lose their virginity so they could offer themselves to him (one of them being Judy Garland)? This is the man who was the great love of Linda Darnell's life?

But in some cases (such as the case of Linda Darnell), it was very easy to understand. By the time he worked with Darnell, she'd been used to working with directors who weren't really concerned with her work. They regarded her as decorative, and didn't treat her seriously. Or (in the case of Otto Preminger) they bullied her. So when she got to work with Mankiewicz, and he showed her some consideration, and talked to her like he really thought she was intelligent.... she was a goner! And then, after "A Letter to Three Wives", he cast her in his drama "No Way Out", and she was ready to give up everything to run away with him. Which is exactly what she did: she put her daughter Lola in boarding school, she left her husband Pevrell Marley, and she ran off with Mankiewicz. And the lure was that Mankiewicz claimed that he was writing one of the greatest female parts for her, a movie that would cement her reputation as a major actress (she had gotten excellent reviews for "A Letter to Three Wives" and "No Way Out"). After Mankiewicz got through with directing "All About Eve" and "People Will Talk", Mankiewicz and Darnell went off to London, where Mankiewicz had to make arrangements for his next projects, "Five Fingers" and that screenplay he had talked to Darnell about, "The Barefoot Contessa".

Here's where Mankiewicz and John Houseman coincide, because during the making of "Five Fingers", Mankiewicz made a deal to work for Houseman at MGM, to direct "Julius Caesar"; part of the deal involved the loan of one of MGM's stars for Mankiewicz's production of "The Barefoot Contessa".

And so Linda Darnell finds out in the trades that Ava Gardner is cast to star in "The Barefoot Contessa". So there she is, in London, having left her husband, and now she's publicly humiliated, because everyone in Hollywood knows that Mankiewicz claimed that he wrote "The Barefoot Contessa" for her!

So Mankiewicz leaves her, and goes off and makes "Five Fingers" and "Julius Caesar" and "The Barfeoot Contessa", and Linda Darnell is stuck in London, where she makes "Island of Desire" with Tab Hunter (in his second film, after a bit in Joseph Losey's "The Lawless").

But the idea that, in Hollywood, women are treated like... trading cards! And they're constantly humiliated and degraded. And this is normal! This idea is something that is part and parcel to Hollywood's history, and it's still a part of the Hollywood ethos. In the documentary "A Decade Under the Influence," Julie Christie talks about the fact that, in the 1970s, American movies were a "boy's club" and that's why it was tough for women to find roles. And the situation isn't that different, though there are more opportunities because the fragmentation of the market has allowed for the niche marketing of films made by women.

It's knowing how to manipulate the current market situation that makes some people winners. Right now, James Schamus and David Linde are "winners" in the Hollywood game, while Ted Hope remains mired in IndieWood.

But if women have been treated badly in Hollywood, so have men. Right now, "The Bachelor and the Bobbysoxer" is on TCM, and Johnny Sands is on. When he died, his children said that he refused to ever talk about his Hollywood career. The only other information that i ever had about Johnny Sands was that he had been part of Henry Wilsson's "stable" in the late 1940s, and that it was Johnny Sands that brought Rock Hudson to Wilsson's attention (this according to Rock Hudson in his autobiography). After Sands stopped getting roles (he'd outgrown his juvenile prime), he went to Hawaii, where he worked in real estate and got married and had several children. But whatever happened in Hollywood, it was such that he refused to ever discuss it with his family, even though he played the juvenile in movies like "Till the End of Time" (with Dorothy McGuire and Robert Mitchum) or "The Bachelor and the Bobbysoxer" (with Cary Grant, Myrna Loy and Shirley Temple) or "Adventure in Baltimore" (with Robert Young and Shirley Temple). Just as an example of sloppy research, Johnny Sands is not mentioned in Robert Hofler's book "The Man Who Invented Rock Hudson", even though, in the two extant books about Rock Hudson (including "Rock Hudson: His Story" which - supposedly - Hudson coauthored), it was mentioned that it was through Johnny Sands that Hudson got to meet Wilsson. (In "Rock Hudson: His Story", Hudson mentions how he was amazed at the fact that someone who was his age could be in the movies, acting opposite people like Cary Grant, Myrna Loy and Robert Young.)

On Friday, when i was coming out of the last ND/NF screening ("13 Tzameti"), i ran into Larry Kardsih, and i mentioned i was on my way to see "Drawing Restraint 9" (i joked, i've sat through three movies, now i'm going to catch up on my sleep; almost every Matthew Barney movie has caused me to fall asleep). But Larry Kardish wanted to know what it was that caused art people to love his work. What is the difference in terms of the way people look at painting and sculpture and the way people look at film, and what is it in terms of the aesthetic of painting and sculpture which would make people appreciate something that film people consider sloggy, turgid, woefully pretentious? What's the difference?

Well, in contemporary art, the idea of creating a "vision" (an entire world, filled with its own creatures, and a entire mythology) had been so discredited that to encounter something like that was revelatory. In addition (i hate to mention this) but the art world really is one of those places where there is a "homosexual conspiracy". That is: a lot of the art critics, curators, art dealers, are gay men. And when Matthew Barney started, the main "line" about Barney was that he was a male model (he had modelled for the J. Crew catalog). And you had all these curators and art dealers swooning over this (supposedly) gorgeous young man. (That he was straight was also part of the allure: look but don't touch, which is symptomatic of the art world.) Now, right off the bat, if you work in film, beautiful men (or women) are a dime a dozen (Henry Wilsson made his career out of finding people like Guy Madison, Rory Calhoun, Johnny Sands, Rock Hudson, Tab Hunter, Troy Donahue, ad infinitum), so that's nothing new. Also: people going off, half-cocked, with some addlebrained idea about "a vision" is something that we encounter in film all the time. And (fortunately or unfortunately) in film, some of these idiots are actually given the money to go beserk with their ideas, hence "film follies" as Stuart Klawans has written about in his book. Sometimes, people go beserk without a budget (like Jack Smith). But (in film) we've seen Peter Jackson with his "Lord of the Rings" trilogy, we've seen Coppola with "Apocalypse Now", we've seen Bertolucci with "1900" and "The Last Emperor", we've seen Visconti with "Ludwig"... we've even had Jodorowsky, Borowczyk, Wojciech Has... there's been a lot of these damned "visions" up there on the screen, and most film people have seen 'em all.

So the fact that Matthew Barney was a male model doesn't cut it for film people; the fact that he has a "vision" doesn't cut it, either. And (in terms of his "film" technique) Barney has no sense of "flow": he has no idea how to edit his sequences so that they have any sense of movement. The images are simply blocky, inert single images which don't "move". The temporal dimensions of his work are virtually nonexistent: he doesn't have any idea how to make one thing flow into another. But in the visual arts, the idea of the single image which is "held" for an eternity is something expected. It's how people look at a painting. So Barney's blocky construction... art people don't seem to notice it. But it's agony for most film people, who expect the damned thing to move! (But his lack of a rhythmic sense works when his images are played in the background of his installations; the entire "Cremaster" installation at the Guggenheim Museum was really cohesive, even though the individual "films" were intolerable.)

I must admit i wouldn't have even bothered to try to figure out the difference in response if Larry Kardish hadn't asked that question. In terms of art people: when Larry (Qualls) and i went to the press screening, Phyllis Tuchman was there; she was one of the only art critics in the crowd, and then Peter Schjeldhal showed up. Phyllis said to Peter, i'm so glad you're here, because i don't know anybody! (There were mostly film critics at the screening.) He sat right in front of us! And Peter snuck out after an hour and a half! (The damned thing was 2 hours and 25 minutes!) He didn't even make it to the part where Barney and Bjork start cutting each other (the better to eat each other, my dear). One thing i have to say about "Drawing Restraint 9": it was better paced than any of his other "movies", it didn't knock me out the way all the others have, i actually stayed awake throughout. Just goes to show: you work at something long enough, you do become competent.

Which brings to mind the way women are treated in Hollywood, and Julie Christie's comment about Hollywood in the 1970s (the fact that, in order to get a role, you basically had to be somebody's girlfriend), and the fact that Diane Keaton became a star in the 1970s. And the fact that, in her last appearances (in "Something's Gotta Give" and "The Family Stone" and the TV movie "Surrender, Dorothy"), she's amazingly skillful. Enough said!

Saturday, March 18, 2006

Friday, March 17, and a full day of movies.

Went to screenings at ND/NF: "October 17, 1961", "In Bed" and "13 Tzameti". The first was an impressive docudrama on the events of the infamous night when the Parisian police attacked Muslim protesters; the second was a Chilean portrait of a man and a woman, in bed after a sexual encounter, as they try to talk to each other; the last was a "thriller"... every year there's one of these "brute" films ("Man Bites Dog", "Irreversible") which is supposed to show... exactly what, i'm not sure.

And then onto "Drawing Restraint 9", Matthew Barney's latest opus. Which brings to mind the difference between the film world and the art world.

Larry pointed out that in today's New York Post, there were at least two items on the gossip pages (Page Six by Richard Johnson) about people we know. One was about the theft of a sculpture showing Charlie Finch from the Armory Show; the other was about Nica finally getting collaborators for the bio she's been working on about her father, Nicholas Ray. She's going to work with Legs McNeil and Gillian McCain. Since one of their books is about Punk Rock, and another of their books is about the porn industry, this subject should be right up their alley, because everything that Nica's ever found out about her father... AGH!

Oh, well, most directors are monsters anyway, and so what? What so many people can't seem to understand is that you can love the work, but the person who made the work might be worse than slime, and that's ok. The artist is under no obligation to exemplify a moral hero, because ethics are not aesthetics. And meeting someone doesn't prove a thing: i've met a lot of directors over the years, and (of course) they're going to be gracious, especially if you're interviewing them or writing about them or whatever. It's like of course my experience meeting Douglas Sirk (and his wife) was very pleasant. But i didn't have to work with him. A lot of people (including Piper Laurie and Susan Kohner) had terrible experiences with him. And it's not the same for everyone. Hitchcock literally terrorized Tippi Hedren, but he was very nice to Eva Marie Saint and Janet Leigh. It's like child abuse: in most cases, the abusive parent will select one child, and that is the child always beaten, tortured, etc. (That's why Social Services can be counted on to fuck up: they'll look for a "general pattern" of abuse, and ignore the signs of ONE child's abuse; in most of those cases, there are always many children in the household.)

But after seeing so much in the last few days, have a lot of thoughts about the changes happening in movies now, the collapse of space because of digital, the difference between the film world and the art world, the idea of "the visionary" and the need for people to connect to "the sublime", etc.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Feeling sick this morning, a bad case of hives, stayed in bed instead of rushing to ND/NF screenings. News reports of the biggest US air strike in Iraq since 2003: the whole notion (being bandied about this week in the news) of Iraq being on the verge of a civil war as the US is trying to think of ways to leave (Rumsfeld's comments about the possibilities of a peaceful withdrawal) seems to have caused the War Department to go ballistic! Very frightening, especially after seeing something like "My Country, My Country" and seeing the devastation of people's lives there. What is America doing? Why is there such fear of the Bush administration? There is dissent in this country, but it is constantly being derided and marginalized, when it's not, it's becoming more and more the majority opinion.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Busy day.

Actually, it wasn't a crazy day, so much as it was simply a full day. Went to three more screenings at ND/NF: "Twelve and Holding", "Iron Island" and "My Country, My Country". Nothing was terrible, but "Twelve and Holding" and "Iron Island" were let-downs, especially since the previous day's "Into Great Silence" was so magnificent. "My Country, My Country" was a very solid documentary... actually, better than that, a revealing look at the war in Iraq from the point of view of an actual Sunni family. But what really brought a pang was the ITVS logo at the beginning. It's so strange to think that it was so long ago when ITVS started, and i had been part of that whole process....

When i got home, there was Film Comment, with an article by Olaf Moller on William E. Jones, and Amy Taubin's coverage of Sundance, and Kent Jones on Terrence Malick's "The New World". Online, there's been intense controversy on "The New World", with Dave Kehr's website getting a barrage of comments. Jim Hoberman said (in his recent review in The Village Voice) that those who love "The New World" seem to approach it with a religious fervor. The whole idea of "art" as a replacement for religion is something that has been overlooked, but it certainly defines so much of the critical language which has been present throughout the 20th Century, aesthetic terms such as "the sublime" or "spiritual" or "transcendent"... the list goes on. In a way, when people's most intense aesthetic passions are stirred, there's no way to discuss it rationally. It's like love.

In The Brooklyn Rail, there was a "poem" by Jonas Mekas, which was from 2003; parts of it were very funny, because Jonas can be such a liar.

On Michael Lucas's blog, he announces that his video "Dangerous Liaisons" won the Gay VN Award for Best Film, and several other awards, including Best Supporting Actor for Kent Larson. I e.mailed Kent my congratulations, and he e.mailed me back. Kent is very courteous; it's funny, because we've been e.mailing each other for about a year... the internet can do funny things, because you can now be in this communication with someone, and there's really no reason to meet.

But it's like blogging: Dave Kehr and Matt Zoller Seitz are people who are creating a real "community" on the web in terms of film, and it's becoming more interesting than most of the film journalism that's out there in print.

In his DVD column this week, one film that Dave Kehr reviewed was Peter Bogdanovich's "The Thing Called Love". That was such a strange movie; if it had been a hit, Sandra Bullock wouldn't have had to wait for "Speed" to be discovered. But he makes a comparison with Altman's "Nashville", which he calls "condescending". And i think there's some truth in that. And it can be shown in terms of the casting. Though Lily Tomlin is (actually) very touching in the film, when Altman cast her (throwing out Louise Fletcher), it was because Lily Tomlin (up until that point) was a comedienne. Henry Gibson was cast in the movie (and opens the movie) and then he casts Lily Tomlin, and Allen Garfield was also a comic actor (in the early De Palma comedies). So you get the sense that Altman is gearing the movie more towards "Laugh-In" rather than a "serious" examination of country music. (I remember rushing out to see "Nashville" when it opened, and that was when i simply refused to see any American commercial movies; from 1973 until 1977, i think i only saw five American commercial releases, though i've since caught up with most of them. I did go to experimental films, i did go to foreign films, but i had NO interest in Scorsese, Coppola, Woody Allen, De Palma, Spielberg, et al. Actually, i still don't have much interest in their work. But i did rush to "Nashville" and i was really let down. My favorite Altmans include "Brewster McCloud", "McCabe & Mrs. Miller", "The Long Goodbye", "Three Women". But even "Three Women" is an example: it's one of Altman's most imaginative films, yet it's also a Hollywood gloss on a much more original and profound film, Bergman's "Persona". And in "Three Women", Altman gets all gooey and mystical, because he's got to resolve his film. In "Persona", Bergman realizes that the conundrums that he gets into are, ultimately, impossible to resolve, so Bergman, in a blinding fit of perception, doesn't end his film, he simply stops it! But Altman has to resolve it, which is why "Three Women" is a lesser movie. "Three Women" is a Hollywood version of "Persona" in the same way that Judith Barry once said that Matthew Barney was like a Hollywood version of Performance Art, cf. Vito Acconci, Chris Burden, Joseph Beuys.)

In terms of "The New World", it reminds me of discussing Robert Wilson with Hannah Wilke, and Hannah thought that Wilson's stuff was so boring, because it was like the old Happenings, only slower and more tedious. But (as Hannah said) people have to have their experience! And if people didn't have Happenings, well, they've got Robert Wilson. And if people don't have Dreyer or Bresson or Antonioni, well, they've got "the New World".

On George Robinson's blog (http://cine-journal.blogspot.com), he writes about the current AIDS crisis, but he also writes about water imagery in film. On Matt Zoller Seitz's blog (http://www.mattzollerseitz.blogspot.com), he writes about one of Ray Carney's books on John Cassavetes. However, Matt makes one (usual) error: he talks about Cassavetes and Burt Lane trying to start an alternative to the Actors Studio, and cites Lee Strasberg as a "guru" who taught Marlon Brando. But Brando always insisted (and let it be known) that Strasberg had never been his teacher, the only "teachers" Brando ever acknowledged were... his mother and Stella Adler. That's it. Stella Adler.

Onto another day of ND/NF, and if these movies are as middling as most of the others.... well, i don't know if i'll make it through the end of the week (especially since it's supposed to snow on Friday).

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

At long last....

Two screenings at ND/NF: the first was the Italian film "Texas"... which seemed terribly deja-vu. Yet another Italian film about a group of 20-somethings going through all sorts of emotional/sexual turmoil. ("The Last Kiss", etc.) And Valeria Golino... in yet another "Valeria Golino" part. She's not a bad actress, but the way she's used in so many Italian movies, she's becoming a cliche unto herself.

But "Into Great Silence"... just phenomenal. Finally, a really impressive film. It's one of the most beautiful documentaries i've seen since... well, since Tian Zhuangzhuang's "Delamu". It used a variety of formats (super-8, Hi-Def DV, all blown up to 35mm) to stunning effect. I really need to think about it, but it was one of the purest experiences i've had, and it was such a meditative film....

Came home, in the mail some DVDs from William E. Jones. New works. Watched "All Male Mash Up" and "Mansfield 1962". Very intriguing: Bill is continuing to try to find a way to mediate the (homosexual) male gaze. The question: can pornography be used as a genre and be "deconstructed" in post-modern terms?

Watched "American Idol" at the gym. But it was a two-hour show! So i watched some of it, and then came home to see the end. Larry and i have no idea who is going to get cut this time.

An e.mail from George Robinson about the AIDS Walk. It's terrifying to think of the devastation that the Bush Administration is doing to other parts of the world, especially Africa. By making so much of the (possible) funding dependent on "faith-based" charities, they're finding ways to deny people health care. AIDS isn't a "message from God", it's a disease!

What i don't understand is that Bush and his cronies have been caught in so many "compromising" situations... yet the Democrats are so afraid. And recent polls indicate that over 50% of the troops stationed in Iraq DO NOT SUPPORT THE ADMINISTRATION! Yet they are doing their duty, but they think there should be a withdrawal of American troops. (In fact, one poll last week put the number of those in the service opposed to the current Iraq occupation at 70%!) Yet Bush acts as if his (narrow) margin of victory has meant that there is a mandate, and he's just running roughshod over everything.

Watching "Sir! No Sir!" a few weeks ago, i was struck at the fervor of those people in the 1970s. Jane Fonda makes the comment that there has been a concentrated effort to deny that part of history, to act as if there hadn't been a (mass) movement against the Vietnam War, that there hadn't been groups like Vietnam Veterans Against the War. And seeing "Winter Soldier" again, when Dennis Doros and Amy Heller reissued the film, i was reminded of that passion. And of being part of that era....

I joined my first group at the age of 10: LEMPA. Lower East Side Mobilization for Peace Action. And there were so many other groups.

Sometimes, it seems as if that era never existed, it seems so distant, but then there are films like "Sir! No Sir!" and "Winter Soldier" to remind me that it did happen, and that i was part of something that really did have an impact.

Monday, March 13, 2006

Got back from today's ND/NF screenings ("Pavee Lackeen"; "Still World" and "First on the Moon") to read on ATT's homepage that Maureen Stapleton died. Took more than an hour to get home, because the "R" was nonexistent (waited at the 59th Street station for at least 20 minutes) but then got home and when i turned on the TV that documentary "Broadway: The Golden Years" was on Channel 13. So many people had raved about it when it played at the Angelika. So (in memory of Maureen Stapleton) decided to watch it, and it was enjoyable (how could it not be, with all those actors talking? if actors aren't lively in conversation, what are they?), but some of Rick McKay's comments (especially during the pledge breaks) were irritating. But it's similar to the feeling i had watching the PBS doc "Broadway: The Musical": the people who do these docs aren't really very knowledgable. Rick McKay talks about his surprise when so many people interviewed talked about Laurette Taylor. And then he mentions how he had never heard of Laurette Taylor. Where has this man been? Laurette Taylor's one of those names that EVERYONE talked about, and not just in the theater: George Cukor would always talk about Laurette Taylor, and Katharine Hepburn would always say that Laurette Taylor was the greatest actress she's ever seen, and on and on and on. Had Rick McKay never heard of "The Glass Menagerie"?

In a way, that's why i think it's hopeless: in every field i can think of, there are so-called "experts" whose actual knowledge is very minimal, but they get to rule because there's nobody else around (think RoseLee Goldberg and the field of "performance") : they're the ones whose books get published, they're the ones who get funding, they're the ones who are being asked by foundations, etc. to "advise" about the field. I wish i were a know-nothing, because maybe i'd actually find a way to make money on this racket.

But i was sad to read about the death of Maureen Stapleton. She was one of those people (Shelley Winters was another)... well, all i can say is that the only time i ever met her, she was drunk! But she was funny!

From a fortune cookie: "The social scene can be fun today." That was certainly true on Saturday. I had been messing around, watching TV (two movies on the Fox Movie Channel: "Everything Happens at Night" one of the most anomalous Sonja Henie vehicles, and "A Circle of Deception" a WWII melodrama from 1960, a pan-and-scan version of a Scope movie) and didn't get to the gym. Larry came back, and insisted that i go to openings, because one of them was going to be the reception for Jonas's George Macuinas exhibition at the Maya Stendhal Gallery. So i went, and it turned out to be fun. The galleries in Soho were crazy: the Spencer Brownstone opening was insane, but the Artists Space opening was fun. The Artists Space exhibit wasn't even an "art" exhibition: it was a series of charts and graphs on the walls, all showing the "interconnections" between artists. Ran into a lot of people, including Robin Vachal.

Watched "Big Love" on HBO; a tough call, because the tone is not really comic: it's very deliberately paced, and it's more creepy than funny, and i think that's the intention. Spent part of the day looking at various blogs: Dave Kehr's, Matt Zoller Seitz's, Anthony Kaufman's on IndieWire. Big news of the weekend was the return of "The Sopranos". Surprise ending? That's the problem, i think not.

Saturday, March 11, 2006

Somehow, in typing out the progression of novels, i forgot "Of Human Bondage": it should go between Samuel Butler's "The Way of All Flesh" and Salinger's "The Catcher in the Rye"; it's not a chronological list, but a list in terms of the way these novels used to be taught: the two Dickens's novels and the Butler in grade school; Maugham and Salinger in junior high school; Lawrence and Joyce in high school (or possibly college). That's not actually when i read them (that's a whole other story in itself).

But it was so strange to see people reading "Of Human Bondage"! But then, Brooklynites are great readers: people are always reading books on the subway into Manhattan. Yesterday, one person was reading soemthing titled "The Mercury Reader"... seated next to a woman reading something by Louisa M. Alcott.

Friday, March 10, 2006

Is it just me, or is there some "Oprah Book Club" link-up with Somerset Maugham's "Of Human Bondage"? Last week, every day when coming into Manhattan, someone was on the subway, reading "Of Human Bondage". (And it was never the same person.) Today, coming back from Manhattan, i was stuck in a subway carload of Hassids, all rushing home before sundown. Is Purim this weekend?

Last week, i was thinking of the whole tradition of the bildungsroman (is that the spelling?): in Angloamerican letters, the progression starts with Dickens ("David Copperfield" and "Great Expectations"), then Samuel Butler ("The Way of All Flesh"), then J.D. Salinger ("Catcher in the Rye"), then D.H. Lawrence ("Sons and Lovers") and then James Joyce ("Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man"). Now, of course, we're littered with these damned "confessionals" about my-life-as-a-frat-boy or my-life-as-a-marine or my-life-as-a-truckstop-tramp... please!

One (idiot) note: The Whitney Biennial this time has a "title" and it's "Day for Night", based on the film by Francois Truffaut. But the actual title of the film (since it is French) is "La Nuit Americane", and THIS Biennial is one which is NOT restricted (as per the actual charter of the museum) to "American" art.

Rush, rush, rush.

No real time to post a new blog, suffice it to say that, in thinking about "No Way Out" and "Fallen Angel", reminded me of stories about Linda Darnell (especially re: Joseph L. Mankiewicz) and that brought to mind the whole issue of casting, i.e., the famous instances of how someone winds up in a movie (even though someone else was cast first). Famous instance: Claudette Colbert getting signed to play Margo Channing, then hurting her back and they had to get Bette Davis (just released from her Warners contract, so freelancing for the first time in her career) as a fast replacement.

Watched "Dark Command" on TCM, very intriguing Republic Western from 1940. More ND/NF, and digital is driving people nuts. The Scandinavian film "A Soap" was very well-done, but felt contrived and hollow. The subject matter (woman meets neighbor who is a pre-op transexual prostitute) was (at this point) so "deja-vu all over again": the woman and male hustler romance ("The Blue Hour"), the transexual "trauma" ("Transamerica")... oh, well, that's the problem with seeing too many movies, they all start to seem the same....

Thursday, March 09, 2006

"Life's not fair!"

Decades ago, when we were standing in the lobby of BAM, waiting to go into the latest Robert Wilson extravaganza (i forget which one), Twyla Tharp was also waiting her turn. And the week before, she had just premiered her new piece "As Time Goes By" at the Joffrey Ballet. And somebody on the staff of BAM ran up to her, and gushed, "Oh, Twyla, I just saw your new ballet, and, oh, Twyla, it was so brilliant." And Twyla (of course) shoots her one of those baleful looks. And then the woman continued, "But, Twyla, it was so short! It wasn't fair!" And Twyla just barks, "I'm not fair? Honey, life's not fair!"

So much for that. Third day of ND/NF. Three screenings. This whole question of digital filmmaking is really starting to make people crazy. It IS different. I've compared it to the changeover to sound. If you look at most of the early sound films, they're static and visually undistinguished. And the silent films from that period (1927-1931), even the ones with soundtracks, are so magnificent: movies such as Sjostrom's "The Wind", Murnau's "Sunrise" and "Tabu", Vidor's "The Crowd", von Sternberg's "The Last Command", Borzage's "Seventh Heaven" and "Street Angel", von Stroheim's "The Wedding March"…. Even a part-talkie like Paul Fejos's "Lonesome" has wonderfully fluid sequences, but the dialogue sequences stop the movie dead. (Even directors like Borzage and Vidor were not immune: "They Had to See Paris", Borzage's first talkie, is just so static, and Vidor's "Not So Dumb" is pretty lethal.)

One of the problems is that aesthetic judgement depends on one's vantage point. Case in point: Cam Archer's "Wild Tigers I Have Known". Before it started, Amy Taubin mentioned that, stylistically, it was "aggressive". (She had seen it at Sundance.) And in a way, it was. But this story of an alienated pubescent boy who has a crush on an older boy is one of those studies of gay angst and abjection which are usually done on digital with incredibly loud soundtracks. The thing is: most of these studies are short. In fact, gay film festivals are cluttered with these shorts, and if you've ever gone to a shorts program at a gay festival (or if you've had to help program a gay festival), you've been seeing these contraptions for at least a decade (or more). Jeff Lunger will know what i mean, because when he was programming the New Festival, he had a weakness for those shorts! "Abjection": do people still use that word? God knows, i hope it's gone out of fashion now that the JT Leroy debacle has surfaced. But "Wild Tigers I Have Known" was just a feature-length version of one of those shorts. It's the post-"Tarnation" aesthetic of digital pseudo-confessional. "Wild Tigers I Have Known" is more professional than most, but it's the same old story.

More on ND/NF at another time. Robin Pogrebin's article in today's Arts section of the Times announces federal grants to "downtown" arts groups, including The New Museum. It's one of those things where i thought this had happened years ago, but everything in terms of "downtown" has been so slow, it's a wonder this has happened at all. (And I know most of the arts groups are thinking, they'll believe it when they actually see the check.)

Here's a dilemma: in writing, especially in this era of the ready-made confessional, how much of your life do you tell? With people living their lives recorded on the web, with people blogging everything, when is it too much? But also: nobody is an island, so your life may connect with other people's lives….

It's like, at the end of his autobiography, Peter Fonda mentions that he has not written about his other two sisters, Frances "Pan" Brokaw, and Amy Fonda. Jane is in the public eye, and so he has written about her (with her consent). But Pan and Amy, after spending their childhoods being trotted out for photos in Life and Look and so on, decided (as adults) that they wanted to live their lives in private. And he wants to respect that, because he remains close to all of his sisters (unlike Jane, who hasn't spoken to Pan or Amy in decades). It's like in the last month, there's been a family crisis, and you know it's been serious, because i've gotten hives. I haven't had hives since i was in junior high school. (When something traumatic happens, i rarely get hysterical; instead, something happens… like hives or an ulcer or gout.) But that's my sister's business, that's all i'll say. For me, it's very important how people are as parents. I thought my father was a wonderful father. But my mother….

The most i can say is that my mother is some character! Here's one of the classic stories. This happened in the 1980s. At that time, the New York Times would let their critics write these "critic's notebook" columns. So one day, the late Mel Gussow writes a column about how "diversified" the American theater has become, and he lists a number of Asian-Americans who are prominent in the theater. So that evening, the phone rings. "Daryl?" It's my mother. "I'm reading the New York Times…" "Yeah…" "Is there another Daryl Chin working in the theater?" "I don't know, Ma, you gave me this name, maybe you wanted me to be part of a crowd." "What does this mean: conceptual director?" "I don't know, Ma, you'd have to ask Mel Gussow, he came up with that phrase." Then there's a pause, then my mother says (with great disdain), "You mean it's come to THIS… YOU'RE making a significant contribution to the American theater?" What can i say?

Speaking of critic's columns, i always read Dave Kehr's DVD column in the New York Times, and i thought his analysis of the three new "Fox Noir" titles was terrific. It's interesting, because Preminger's series of "noirs" can be looked at in very structural/formalist terms. When Larry was working on this PhD, he was writing his dissertation on melodrama, and he wanted to do a structural analysis (this was in 1972, when structuralism was relatively new to American academia). And one chapter was going to be about Otto Preminger's films, because the series of melodramas (now called "noirs") were so incredibly intertwined. (I always include "Daisy Kenyon" in that group, because it's so much a part of the series… same Fox NYC backlot set, same David Raksin as composer, same Joseph LaShelle as cinematographer, same Dana Andrews as one of the leads; there's no murder or crime, but there are legal entanglements, and the same encroaching corruption; in the case of "Daisy Kenyon", the corrupt milieu of ruling class insularity is such that the one time when the Dana Andrews character tries to do something "noble", i.e., defend the rights of a Japanese-American war vet, he is defeated.) I remember Larry and i went again and again to see "Laura", "Fallen Angel", "Daisy Kenyon", "Whirlpool", "Where the Sidewalk Ends", "The Thirteenth Letter" and "Angel Face". (A few months ago, when the BAMCinemathek had a screening of "The Thirteenth Letter", i was very excited; somehow, i had the idea that i hadn't seen it, but once it started, i realized, i had seen it, and more than once. But it was a great print, and i always like hearing Elliot Stein giving a spiel, especially when he's enthusiastic, as he always is about Preminger.) Though Dave Kehr writes discerningly about "No Way Out", the question i have about that title is: since when did it become a "noir"? "No Way Out" was always cited as one of the late 1940s-early 1950s "race" movies (cf. "Pinky", "Lost Boundaries", "Intruder in the Dust", "Home of the Brave"); in fact, it was the most volatile, what with the race riot at the end, and the tensions which were exposed in the film were considered so incendiary (the movie was the only box office flop for Joseph L. Mankiewicz during that period) that "No Way Out" effectively ended the cycle. (When the major studios did "race" movies over the next few years, they were usually "all-black" productions, such as "Bright Road" or "Carmen Jones". Preminger himself said that movies like "Carmen Jones" and "Porgy and Bess" were set in a fantasyland where racism wasn't a problem because there were only blacks.) But "No Way Out" was a "problem" picture, the way that "The Lost Weekend" was a "problem" picture (in that case, alcoholism) or "The Man With the Golden Arm" was a "problem" picture (in that case, drug addiction). It was supposed to be a prestige number for Fox (and for Mankiewicz): it came between "A Letter to Three Wives", "House of Strangers", "All About Eve" and "People Will Talk", but it flopped, and Hollywood tried to forget it (though it did receive some Academy Award nominations, though "All About Eve" cleaned up, both at the box office and as an award magnet). Mankiewicz himself was actually very proud of "No Way Out": when MoMA did its big 20th Century-Fox retro (curated by the late Stephen Harvey), Mankiewicz came to introduce the screening of "No Way Out" and he mentioned how he felt it was vastly underrated and overlooked. I think it's one of his most interesting movies (actually, far more interesting than his other 1950 movie, "All About Eve").

But in the papers, there are the reports about Andrew Fastow's testimony in the Enron case. It's the type of thing where it seems inevitable that there will be guilty verdicts for the Enron execs… but this is America, so you never know. The idea that Jeffrey Skilling and Kenneth Lay will probably never face jail time (let alone pay back anything) is unbearable, but that's not so farfetched. While i was at the gym, i was watching MSNBC, The Abrams Report, and there was a segment about Imette St. Guillen, the grad student who was raped and murdered. And it's like the information that she was out late (past midnight) and had a few drinks…. Suddenly, it's her fault, and she's being painted as some sort of a slut who got what she deserved. (All these callers from the mid-West are incensed that this girl was allowed to be "wild"!) It's insane.

We really are in another country!

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Two days of New Directors/New Films, plus a "correction".

Ok, according to ABCNews, the official statement made by Robert Altman during the press conference immediately after his acceptance of his honorary Oscar was that nowadays, there are so many ways of making a romance, not just boy-girl, but boy-boy, and girl-girl, and he'd like to try making a girl-girl romance.

So much for that. Now onto New Directors/New Films.

And on the second day, we were treated to a hunk of Kiwi romantic whimsy, which seems to be a very specialized taste. This time, it was a film written and directed by Sarah Watt, called "Look Both Ways"; i'm still recovering from the one i saw in the mid-1990s, Shirley Barrett's "Love Serenade". Still, it had its attractions, and there was one intriguing sidelight: the Aborigine character was not presented in terms of a "problem" but simply as another participant in the romantic complications. In other words: her ethnicity wasn't "stressed" or emphasized. So that i found very interesting.

But yesterday's films, "Half Nelson" and "The Blossoming of Maximo Oliveros", were much more interesting, and point to a real situation which is going to crop up more and more: what is a "good" film? By this i mean: in the past, there was a certain technical competence which was assumed as a criterion of value. Of course, there are cases of films which were borderline incompetent, but which nevertheless were important documents. I'm not talking about so-called "avantgarde" films, which define their own aesthetic parameters. I'm thinking of something like "Straight Out of Brooklyn", which i remember seeing at a special screening, with the young (adolescent) writer-director Matty Rich in attendance. He was, what, nineteen or twenty when he made the film? And it was (in many ways) abysmal: shots didn't match, there was no concept of editing continuity (let alone fluidity), the lighting was haphazard. Yet there was an intensity about the film, and a patent sincerity that came through in terms of the performances. Technically, it wasn't even a mess: it was totally amateurish. This was the period when African-American directors were trying to find a place within the American motion picture industry, and Rich had (some) talent and so you couldn't just dismiss him, and he'd had the tenacity to actually get his movie finished!

"Half Nelson" was a good "indie" movie, and it shares with so many other "indie" movies a fatal weakness: a kind of "kitchen-sink" realism that makes you feel like you've been swatted by a wet dishrag. But the question with "Half Nelson" is: Ryan Fleck had made the short "Gowanus, Brooklyn" (from which he expanded the material to get this feature). Was there really enough in the material that warranted taking a quite decent short film and making it into a feature? This is similar to the questions i had about "Raising Victor Vargas". Did Peter Sollett really have to expand his short "Five Feet High and Rising"? (I enjoyed "Raising Victor Vargas" tremendously, and the expansion of the material was really satisfying in that case.) This time, the attempt to "flesh out" the story seemed to leave the central situation (the friendship between the teacher and the student) a little stunted. Also: so many of the peripheral characters came across as theatrical in a way that made the film seem schizophrenic.

"The Blossoming of Maximo Oliveros" was one of the best movies i've seen from the Philippines. That said, what was really intriguing to me was the fact that it was a digital production. Over the past few years, digital filmmaking has become the norm in so many countries, "film" as the celluloid matter passing through a camera is becoming a thing of the past. Yet one of the problems has been that so many "filmmakers" persist in using digital video as if it were film, and they try to frame and light and edit digital material in a way commensurate with film, and the results are (usually) visually atrocious. And we've been forced to put up with this, because (at times) the material has been quite good. (I hate to use it as an example, but I found Jia Zhangke's "Unknown Pleasures" visually flaccid, with a general fuzziness which got wearisome. The digital camerawork was simply not distinguished. Especially since "Platform" had been visually so precise.) And "Unknown Pleasures" is the high end; i'm not even talking about all those InDigEnt productions, like "Tadpole" and "Chelsea Walls" and "Pieces of April" which look so bad, they're an affront to the eyes. But there have been appearing some digital productions which seem to be developing a new style, along with "new" content. It's hard to explain, but those digital productions which really seemed distinctive (such as the Chinese films "Blind Shaft," "The Green Hat" and "Stolen Life"; the Swiss film "Garcon Stupide"; Benoit Jacquot's "A Tout de Suite"; Mark Street's "Rockaway"; Steven Soderbergh's "Bubble") have learned not to mimic film, but have tried to allow the new medium to shape the visual material. It's a more casual approach, with a (mostly) shallow visual field, but (if used intelligently) with a greater concentration on close-up gestures and expressions. The crowded Manila slums of "The Blossoming of Maximo Oliveros" provide an appropriate setting, so that most scenes are crowded and played very close-in. Auraeus Solito, the young director, is very astute in terms of the performers: he uses the self-consciousness often found in nonprofessionals as part of the characters, especially in the case of the young person playing Maxi, Nathan Lopez. The film had a great deal of charm, and the ending (a quote from the ending of "The Third Man") was sweetly evocative, but what's most intriguing is the way that Solito is trying to use the digital medium in a way that makes it quite different from film.

I think this period in "film" is going to be like the changeover to sound: there's a lot of resistance, as well as a lot of people unable to make the change. But those who do are trying to find new, less structured, more casual ways of working, ways which are not as cumbersome as the old (heavy) 35mm cameras. In many ways, the approach seems to be a revival of Neo-Realism, with scripted stories which are cast with people who actually are what their characters are supposed to be. It's also allowing a mixture of approaches, so that monologues and direct-to-the-camera addresses also become part of the texture, giving a greater sense of intimacy with the people being seen.

This just in: according to a report from the New York Daily News, George Lucas is predicting the demise of any vestige of the studio system; he believes that, by 2025, the only movies that will be released theatrically will be "indie" movies.

He should know (i guess).

Anyway, "American Idol" had the eight female contestants singing. Most were good, Mandisa singing "I'm Every Woman" was a terrific. But it was (unfortunately) a little unfair. Someone like that girl Paris or that girl Ayla (the 6' tall college athlete) are teenagers (17 years old) with no professional experience at all! And Mandisa is the oldest (at 28) and she's been singing professionally for years. Yes, her voice is incredible, but if she wasn't "professional" and able to carry off whatever she wants to sing (and she also should have a clear idea of what she can and cannot sing), then what has she been doing for the last decade? So even in something like this, there is no level playing field.

Oh, well. Dana Reeve died, and it was noted that she never smoked, but she worked as a cabaret singer for a lot of her career, and the lung cancer was a development from second-hand smoke. Gordon Parks died. I hope that the IFP does some sort of tribute to him. Ali Farka Toure died, one of the first West African musicians to really achieve an international career.

Onto day three of ND/NF.

Monday, March 06, 2006


The whole Academy Award debacle isn't worth writing about (i hate all these commentaries about the "social meaning" of the Academy Award; come on, people, get real), but one comment (reported over the wires) overheard at the Governor's Ball (this may be apocryphal, but maybe not) was Robert Altman's comment about the win of "Crash" over "Brokeback Mountain": "Thank God, because i couldn't stand the idea of having to watch another fucking boy-on-boy romance! I want to do a girl-on-girl romance!" (Maybe he was telling the truth when he said that he never sees other movies, because where has he been? He's never seen "Personal Best" or "The Hunger" or even "Thelma and Louise"?)

(That's why i love Altman: he'll say what other people will try to censor.)

The start of New Directors/New Films.

Well, it's that time of year again, and this morning there were two screenings: "Half Nelson" and "The Blossoming of Maximo Oliveros". Thought both films had merit, and the latter was particularly fascinating as an example of the development of an aesthetic approach to working in digital, and trying to develop a real digital "style". "Half Nelson" was good, but i wish it weren't so earnest, and Ryan Gosling has to lighten up! Where's the kid who used to be in "The Mickey Mouse Club"? Where's the kid who used to do cartwheels on "Young Hercules"? He doesn't even smile much anymore.

A lot of flurry via e.mail re: the Academy Awards.

But i'd like to comment on Robert Altman.

One friend of mine once said about Altman, "He's a genius. He must be a genius, because otherwise he's the stupidest man i've ever met in my life, and there's no other explanation for his best movies." He's a very erratic talent, he had a great run in the 1970s, and it's been hit and miss ever since.

But one thing is that Altman can also be incredibly cruel, vindictive, and outright hateful.

I once ran into Suzy Elmiger, who has worked for Altman as an editor. She was (at the time) working on the edit of "Pret-a-Porter". And it was driving her crazy. The movie was hit-and-miss, there were terrible bits and some great bits, but there was no way to structure it so that it would make sense.

But there was one thing that she felt really terrible about.

As with one of these Altman extravaganzas, it had so many actors floating around, and in most cases, they were working without scripts. There was a vague outline, but he just kept signing up more and more people, and many of them were left adrift.

Well, one person he allowed in the movie was Sally Kellerman. What happened with Kellerman was that he had (of course) worked with her on "M*A*S*H", and then on "Brewster McCloud". It had been a very wonderful working relationship. (Altman may be many things, but i haven't heard that he's one of those directors who must have affairs with the women he works with; Ingmar Bergman he's not.) But on "Brewster McCloud", he met a nonactress that he cast in the movie, Shelley Duvall, and his interest in Kellerman waned. She (of course) didn't really understand, and she kept waiting for him to work with her again. (He had talked to her about
"McCabe" but when he made it, it was a ready-made deal with Warren Beatty and Julie Christie.) At parties, Kellerman would always try to corral Altman, to ask him when they'd be working together again, and he'd often duck out of parties early, just to avoid her.

But he let her in "Pret-a-Porter". And she knew his working methods, and she realized that there was no real script.

So she got ahold of some of the other actors (and there were plenty of them) and they began to make up their own story. They went so far as to come up with a little script (which could be amended). And Altman didn't stop this, he filmed the material.

Suzy said that if she had edited the Kellerman segments, it would have made a perfect little 45 minute short. And these were some of the best scenes that were shot, because they had cohesive dialogue, there was character development, and it wasn't amorphous, there was a plot, and a beginning, middle and end.

When Altman realized this (Suzy said that there would have been a way to edit the film so that the Kellerman "scenes" would have been the "anchor" of the film, and this would have helped to structure the movie, which had become utterly shapeless), he was furious. He had let Kellerman in on the movie in a moment of "weakness", but he didn't want her to "shine".

So Suzy was instructed to "shred" the Kellerman parts, and this was very vindictive, and it wasn't just to hurt Sally Kellerman, it wrecked the movie as a whole. But Altman was willing to do this, just to make sure that Sally Kellerman knew her place.

The Louise Fletcher story is pretty well known: Louise Fletcher's parents are deaf. Louise Fletcher has two children. Louise Fletcher's father was actually a minister and she sang in a choir. Put these together and you get the character of Linnea in "Nashville".

Altman knew Fletcher because her then-husband Jerry Bick produced "Thieves Like Us"; when the actress scheduled to play Mattie didn't show up, Altman asked Fletcher to take the role. And he liked working with her so much that he planned the role of Linnea for her.

Imagine her shock when she reads in the trades that Lily Tomlin had been cast in the part, and was learning sign language to prepare for the role! Altman didn't even bother calling her. And it wasn't because of anything she did: Altman was feuding with Jerry Bick, so he decided to dump Fletcher.

And on "Nashville", he did that to another actress: Susan Anspach. She was the one originally scheduled to play Barbara Jean, and she brought along her friend Ronee Blakely (who was going to write the songs for her). Well, he just dumped Susan Anspach and replaced her with Ronee Blakely. And the humilation was that these women had come to Nashville, to work on the movie, and he doesn't even tell them he's firing them, he just starts shooting with other people, and it's announced in the trades.

"A Wedding" was one of Altman's most troubled productions. He had loved working on "3 Women" with Shelley Duvall and Sissy Spacek, and he had decided to work with them again on "A Wedding". But Shelley Duvall had been signed to do Stanley Kubrick's "The Shining" and Spacek had agreed to work on "Bad Timing" with Nicolas Roeg. Both of them wound up in London, and, in the case of "The Shining", there was a protracted shooting schedule, and, in the case of "Bad Timing", the financing kept falling apart. (When Roeg was finally able to start shooting "Bad Timing", Spacek was long gone, and she was replaced by Theresa Russell; Spacek wound up making "The Coal Miner's Daughter" instead.) But they had these commitments, and they couldn't just drop them when Altman called because he was ready to start "A Wedding". (Spacek was cast as the sister of the bride, the part that eventually went to Mia Farrow, and Duvall was cast as the neighbor who rides a horse, the part that eventually went to Pam Dawber; the neighbor's part was considerably diminished, and the sister's part was changed to make her mute, because Mia Farrow was uncomfortable with improvising her own dialogue.) He was furious. He felt that they were being totally disloyal, and he swore not to work with them again. (He did relent with Duvall, and worked with her on "Popeye", but he never relented with Sissy Sacek.) And it wasn't their fault: Duvall just couldn't walk off the set of "The Shining" (it was a shoot that took almost two years!), but Altman expected that!

(Like most directors, the man has shall we say a healthy ego?)

And a lot of people i know have worked for Altman. Susan Emshwiller (Ed Emshwiller's daughter) has done the art direction on several of his film, Suzy Elmiger has worked as an editor, Marlene Arvin (who had worked for Jonas Mekas at Anthology Film Archives) worked as Altman's assistant (and as the general manager for Altman's Sandcastle Productions), Robert Hilferty was an assistant during the late 1970s.

But the thing they all say is that Altman's genial vibe is HIS genial vibe; he controls it, he sets it up, and if he decides to banish you, that's it. And he often does it in a way that's very public, so that (if he's banishing you) it's obvious and you're publicly humiliated (which happened to Louise Fletcher and Susan Anspach).

It was like the press conference at the New York Film Festival, when "A Wedding" was opening night. This was during the Richard Roud era, and (of course) as everyone knew, Roud was one of the major champions of Jean-Luc Godard. So someone asks Altman about the ending of "A Wedding" and how it's similar to the ending of Godard's "Contempt" (the car crashing into the truck) and Altman (with Richard Roud sitting right next to him) very calmly says, i wouldn't know because i've never seen a Godard movie. Altman loves these "pranks" where someone like Richard Roud is put on the spot. Altman is either the biggest liar in the world, or he's seriously delusional. But he's probably both.

Sunday, March 05, 2006

After the Academy Awards.

Well, please, i hope that this puts to rest any pretense that the Academy Awards have anything to do with "excellence" because if "Crash" can win....

Let's not get into that.

But liberal guilt did play a part, and Ang took home his statuette. The only real surprise was Three 6 Mafia winning for Best Song for "It's Hard Out Here for a Pimp".

(And Ang did use the word "gay" in his acceptance speech; savvy guy, that Ang, since so many gay writers have become vocal about the avoidance of the word in terms of the way "Brokeback Mountain" has been marketed.)

Saturday, March 4, 2006

Don't know what happened to my profile, etc. Tried to click onto my blog and all that was gone. Hmmm….

Anyway, yesterday was a great day. I had a wonderful time. It was the last day of the panel, and the experience (as these experiences always are) was genuinely illuminating. But (as noted) can't really discuss this until at least April (I think).

After the panel concluded, went and met my friend Jeff Lunger. Looked at parts of a project he's working on, then we went and had dinner at a Vietnamese restaurant. The evening was delightful, but it reinforced the sense of isolation I've been feeling, being in Brooklyn.

After such a "high", as was my wont in terms of my (mildly) manic-depressive personality, today I crashed. Felt totally wiped out. Watched the Independent Spirit Awards. Usually, the Spirit Awards are a little depressing, because there's always a sweep: one year, it's "In the Bedroom"; one year, it's "Memento"; one year, it's "Far from Heaven". And usually that film wins in most of the major categories. But this year, the Spirit Awards really spread it around. It was a pretty good show, with some moments of real pathos (the winners of the "Truer Than Fiction" Award were Garrett Scott and Ian Olds, and when Olds went up to accept the award, he announced that Garrett Scott had died just three days ago of a heart attack, at the age of 37), and some moments of wild humor (Felicity Huffman's acceptance speech was one of the funniest in a long time). On George Robinson's blog (http://cine-journal.blogspot.com) he writes about some of the films in the Rendezvous With French Cinema series. Stephane Brize's film (which he liked) was one which I didn't get to see, but I agree with George's assessment of Laurent Cantet's "Vers le sud". A brilliant film about sex and money.
On George's blog, he explains why he named his "Cine-journal"; the reason for the name "Documents on Art & Cinema" was that "Art & Cinema" had been a publication that Larry and I edited in the 1980s. There were only a few issues, but we tried to create a journal which would really deal with a subject in depth, so that there was an issue devoted to Japanese cinema, an issue devoted to feminist performance and film, etc.

Watching "Jane Doe: The Harder They Fall" on the Hallmark Channel. Larry and I have a fondness for these mysteries. All those people who used to work on the "Perry Mason" TV movies, and on shows like "Matlock" and "Diagnosis: Murder" (Dean Hargrove, Joyce Burditt, et al) are once again being employed to come up with these made-for-TV mysteries. Watching these shows, there are always people in them who have been around for a while. This one has (among the guest stars) Helen Slater, Dorian Harewood, and Erica Gimpel. Dorian Harewood and Erica Gimpel are examples of people who were caught in the schism in terms of Hollywood and race. Erica Gimpel played Coco in the TV series "Fame" (the part played by Irene Cara in the movie). She was on for about three seasons, then left. I remember James Wolcott (when he reviewed "Fame" in The Village Voice), calling her "one of the most beautiful women on television", but being a beautiful black woman in show business in the 1970s and 1980s was almost worse than nothing. Lonette McKee never even had a chance at a career. In the current climate in Hollywood, the assumption is that "racism" is now a thing of the past. It's like, this year, they made sure that there was a major nomination for black talent (Terrence Howard in "Hustle & Flow"), which is certainly justifiable, but it's also a sop. Hollywood likes nothing more than to be able to forget its injustices: the fact that now, many black actors have been able to sustain their careers (Denzel Washington, Samuel L. Jackson, Morgan Freeman) doesn't mean that the careers of Paul Robeson, Juano Hernandez, Rex Ingram, Canada Lee, and many others weren't blighted and negated.

But it's a situation where, in Hollywood, there's always a pecking order. Now, blacks have been given a place at the table (but notice, this has not actually caused a change in terms of studio executives, "creative" personnel, and so on). However, the black talent that's out there must still meet with the same pool of (overwhelmingly) white executives, writers, directors and producers, and the black talent must conform their projects to the specifics of the readily available stereotypes. (Samuel L. Jackson is the scowling, angry black man; Denzel Washington takes over Sidney Poitier's mantle as the noble black man; Morgan Freeman is the new Rex Ingram, the black man as sage; etc.) It's for this reason that someone like Tyler Perry, crude as his filmmaking technique may be, fills a need; by working "independently", he's able to put whatever "vision" he wants onto the screen.

But this problem of a stagnant top structure, which is not responsive to "diversity", is everpresent in Hollywood. And it also controls the information that's out there. This problem has certainly been present in terms of movies and criticism almost since the beginning. Stanley Kauffmann once characterized this (and he said this in the 1960s) as the problem of inside and outside, that is, there are some writers who seem so bedazzled by getting "inside" information (usually fed through a web of publicists and press agents and handlers) that they try to write as if they were industry insiders. And this (of course) skews their judgement.

Today, of course, there was an orgy of commentators trying to handicap the Oscars, and the big comment was that, collectively, the five nominees for Best Picture "only" made $200 million at the box office. None of the movies was a real "runaway" success. Yet in the segment (this was on CNN), it was pointed out that "The Dukes of Hazzard" was a "huge" success, making $80 million in the domestic box office. Well, why is "Dukes of Hazzard's" $80 million a huge success, when "Brokeback Mountain's" $80 million (to date) on an initial budget of $12 or $14 million, is perceived as a "failure" (which is how it's being portrayed, because "Brokeback" hasn't "broken" $100 million)? Today, talked to both Gary and Douglas, and both of them wound up catching Oprah Winfrey's Oscar show. Douglas, of course, doesn't have cable TV, and his reception is always crap, so he can never "see" television, it's more like picture-tube radio. And they both did the same thing I did: coming home late at night, and watching the rerun of Oprah that's on after midnight. And they both said the same thing: who were those idiots? (Gary, of course, rarely goes to the movies.) The "idiots" were Diane Keaton and Emma Thompson! And both Gary and Douglas noticed the same thing: these people weren't even pretending to be "objective". Both (of course) are Academy Award winners, and both are members of the Academy, and can vote! So when Diane Keaton is asked who her favorites are this year, she suddenly starts babbling about Reese Witherspoon (Keaton excitedly explains that she directed Reese when Reese was a child, in a made-for-TV movie called "Wildflowers", and she's so proud of Reese, and she thinks Reese has become such a wonderful adult, etc.) and then Oprah (who, of course, has been a big fan of "Desperate Housewives") tries to say, oh, but didn't you think Felicity Huffman was amazing in "Transamerica", and Diane Keaton sort of stammers, oh, uh, yeah, I guess, I didn't see it. And when Emma Thompson is asked about any favorites, she gushes about Ang Lee, an old, dear friend (he should be, since he directed her in "Sense and Sensibility"!), and when Oprah asks what other movies Emma Thompson has seen this year, Thompson admits that she was busy (she was making "Nanny McPhee", she's a mother and it's hard juggling motherhood and career, etc.) and she didn't get to see many movies this year.

People who talk about the Academy Awards as if this is an organization which has some sort of canonical status as an arbiter of "excellence" must be nuts. But how did we get to the point where even the New York Times has been devoting daily space to coverage of the Academy Awards, and the Arts & Leisure section has at least three articles? The New York Times will no longer acknowledge the various critics awards (even though the Times critics helped to start the New York Film Critics Circle in the 1930s), yet they accede to the deification of the Motion Picture Academy of Arts and Sciences.

In the "indie" world, there's been such an outcry about the Weinsteins shuttering Wellspring. Like other people, I am disheartened by this, but I expected this! When I read (in IndieWire) about the various machinations of Genius Products, Inc and The Weinstein Company, I knew what was going to happen (wake up and smell the coffee), but why are people surprised when it does happen? Genius has been working to buy out the Sundance Channel's Home Entertainment unit, the Weinsteins have a deal with IFC Films, and The Weinstein Company and Genius Products bought Wellspring from American Vantage Media (which had acquired it from Winstar, etc.). You can see what they're trying to do: IFC has a cable channel, as well as a theatrical distribution unit; Sundance has a cable channel as well as a DVD line; Wellspring is a DVD distributor, with an enormous library of titles. In the "new world" of media, the Weinsteins are now trying to get television and DVD capabilities, in addition to production and theatrical distribution. It's a new style media monopoly.

Of course it's frightening, because it shows how vulnerable the so-called independent film movement is, and how easily it can be coopted and/or undermined. And the IFP/West was an example: the split with the rest of the IFP was done in order to "coordinate" more closely with the Hollywood studios. And this year, more than ever, the Spirit Award nominees were closely reflected in the Academy Award nominations. The IFP/West (renamed "Film Independent") is now trying to be a "player". But why kid yourself: how can you be a player when you're only a toady to the system?

Thursday, March 02, 2006

"American Idol" and "Skating With Celebrities"

Ok, so it did snow, though it seemed more like rain. But i got home around 7:10, and i had to put salt on the steps and the walkway. Actually, it's... calcium caltrate? I think that's what we're using. And then the icy layer would crack, and i'd have to take the shovel and remove the ice, and then i'd have to put more calcium caltrate on, so that the thin sheet of water wouldn't just freeze.... i did that about three times.

Anyway, watched "American Idol" to see who got kicked off. It's actually not accurate to say the contestants were "voted off": it's a popularity contest, and the ones with the lowest vote count have to leave. I watched the show yesterday, and it was amusing. I see what people (including Michael Giltz) mean when they talk about the "Teen Beat" factor. Several of the "men" seeme barely past puberty. (Kevin, especially.)

Well, as Larry and i thought, Brenna Gethers and Heather Cox are now off the show. Of the men, Jose "Sway" Penala and David Radford. I was surprised by David Radford's low score: not because he was that good, but because, of the barely-pubescent boys, he was the cutest. You'd think that would count for something. But his choice of song was totally wrong for his demographic. "The Way You Look Tonight". In that, he was like the child John Stevens last year. One of these baby-faced children raised to be lounge singers. (John Stevens actually did a gig at Feinstein's a few months ago; Stephen Holden actually gave him a decent review.) The cruel thing is that those who are told they're leaving the show have to sing a final number. Actually, Brenna Gethers was better tonight than she was two nights ago! What confidence that girl has!

"Skating with Celebrities" was amusing, because the "scandal" (did Lloyd Eisler actually leave his wife for Kristy Swanson?) Seems to have helped. Besides, they won! Too bad Jillian Barberie took that tumble during their routine, because she and John Zimmerman were doing pretty good. But that was nothing: the Olympic pairs comeptition was filled with people falling.

Watching "Lady and the Tramp" on DVD (on the advice of Dave Kehr in The New York Times, who commended it as one of the very best of the Disney animated features). As Larry is happy to remind people, "Lady and the Tramp" marked one of the only times (maybe the only time) that someone sued Disney and won: Peggy Lee sued because she wasn't receiving her royalties on the music to "Lady and the Tramp". And she won.

I'm exhausted. One more day of this panel. With the NYCSA audit last Friday, that's six days of "work". Which is ok, but i'm sorry to have missed some of the Rendezvous press screenings.

Ok. From the "buzz" i'm getting from LA, there's really a "backlash" against "Brokeback Mountain". And, as i've suggested, there's no way that the 5,800 people who couldn't see themselves nominating Ang Lee for "Sense and Sensibility" are suddenly going to throw him an award. In the crassest LA tems possible: a chink directing a fag movie, and they expect awards? In what dreamworld?

Maybe it will happen, but i have an awful feeling that all those gay Oscar parties are going to be let down. Hollywood remains the most curiously closeted town in the world. It's like everyone knows who's gay, but nobody (except a few crazy Brits, like Ian McKellan and Rupert Everett) admits it. There are gay directors, producers, and writers, but there seem to be no gay actors (unless you count the ones who toil in indie films, like Craig Chester).

I've still got to write up that audit!

Wednesday, March 01, 2006


Once again, i've disgraced myself at one of these panel meetings! The classic was during the very first ITVS panel meeting (when was that? decades ago)... we were given a set of "rules", i.e., we would watch the work sample, we would discuss, and then move on. We could NOT call back something during the first go-around; we could do once we finished with the first round, just make a note and that work would be recalled. Well, wouldn't you know it? (I hope this is not being indiscreet.) On the third day (and we were there for what seemed like an eternity), Julie Zando (the video artist) wanted to go back to something that we had gone through two or three applicants before. Suddenly, i heard a voice screaming, "NO! We cannot go back now! We were told we could only go back after the first go-around!" And that voice was mine!


I did it again!

I should be muzzled!

George Robinson has already logged in a candidate for next year's IRAs, and i should mention a performance i found particularly delightful: Olivier Gourmet's insanely campy turn in Eugene Green's "Le Pont des Arts". What a performance! Especially unexpected since i've mostly seen him in "realist" working-class parts (as in "Le Fils" by the Dardenne Brothers) and here he is being so extravagant. Charles Laughton at his ripest had nothing on Gourmet in "Le Pont des Arts"!

Quick note(s).

Obviously (grammar always worries me) my blog of last night should have read "be gone" instead of "be go" in terms of the "American Idol" contestants. (I've got another dilemma tonight: do i go to the gym, or am i a slothful slob and stay home and watch "American Idol"? Hmmm....)

Evidently there's a controversy a-brewin' re: the Whitney Biennial. Another Hmmm.... and it's already online! The Anonymous Art Bitch has blogged the info.

And i'm going to be stuck in another panel meeting! Boy, next week better be filled with excitement! (Actually, this weekend is filled with excitement: the Independent Spirit Awards on Saturday, and the Academy Awards on Sunday. I don't know if it's excitement, exactly... but some kind of fun.)